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Spain ‘not caving in’ toterrorism, says Berlin

19 April 2004

BERLIN – Spain’s new government has not caved in to terrorism with its decision to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq, a German Foreign Ministry spokesman said Monday.

“(This) is a sovereign decision of the Spanish government,” said Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer’s chief spokesman, Walter Lindner.

Lindner called on commentators to be less outspoken with allegations the move marked Madrid’s surrender to terror.

“The accusation that (Spain) has caved in is emphatically not shared by the us,” said Lindner.

Germany strongly opposed the Iraq war and has refused to send troops to Baghdad.

Spanish Prime Minster Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced on Sunday – 24 hours after being sworn in – that he would withdraw Spain’s 1,300 troops from Iraq as soon as possible.

Zapatero and his Socialists swept to election victory after last month’s train bombings in Madrid, carried out by Islamic extremists, which killed almost 200 people.

Meanwhile, European Union Commission President Romano Prodi on Monday backed Spain’s plans to pull its troops out of Iraq.

Speaking during a meeting of Italian centre-left leaders in Rome, Prodi said the decision by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Rodriguez Zapatero could end up helping speed up the process of finding a solution to the problems in Iraq.

“(Zapatero’s) position is very clear and one that we share,” Prodi said in reported remarks.

Zapatero announced Sunday he had ordered the withdrawal of Spain’s 1,300 troops from Iraq “within the shortest possible time”.

The premier said he had taken the decision after realising that there was little hope of the United Nations taking charge in Iraq by 30 June.

Prodi has backed calls for the UN to assume political and military control of the country and said Monday that Spain’s decision could also help the EU forge a more united front on Iraq.

The United States-led war on Iraq produced a deep rift within member states, with heavyweights France and Germany refusing to take part in the conflict.

Zapatero’s decision to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq was strongly criticized by members of Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right government, which sided with the US and Britain but only sent troops to Iraq after the end of the conflict.

“Zapatero’s decision is mad and profoundly wrong,” Italian Welfare Minister Roberto Maroni said Monday.

Italy currently has 3,000 troops stationed in Iraq.



Subject: German news